Restored

DAMAGED GOODS:

“RESTORED” by Ricky Ambagan

 

          The sacrosanct status that we ascribe to works of art is questioned by Ricky Ambagan in his exhibition “Restored.” The concept, as he has shared in his Artist’s Statement, originated from a real freak incident, which occurred in a Taiwan museum. A twelve-year-old boy, intently listening to a tourist guide, slipped and tripped, and to gain his balance, caused his small fist, holding on to the painting, to puncture a hole on the canvas. As it happens, the show was a Leonardo Da Vinci-themed show. Stirred by the incident, Ambagan pondered on the consequences of a damaged artwork: has the worth of the painting been diminished? Should the painting be restored, “covered-up,” or should the damage be retained as part of its destiny?

          Conflating the two distinct and opposing tendencies of aesthetic appreciation --- Marcel Duchamp’s anti-retinal approach, determined not to please the eye but to excite the mind, and Caravaggio’s classical realism, which has regained ascendancy in the twentieth-century --- Ambagan christens it with the term Hybridism Movement.” Punctiliously, he chose to appropriate as his ideal subject Caravaggio’s painting, “The Doubting of St. Thomas.” Ingeniously, the curious poking of his forefinger into the  wound of Christ to prove that He is alive and risen from the grave parallels that of the Taiwanese boy puncturing the Da Vinci-inspired canvas. Moreover, the connection between Da Vinci and Duchamp (Dachamp?) is thrust upon us when we consider that Duchamp once appropriated a postcard of the Mona Lisa and mischievously, irreverently applied a moustache and a goatee on the dignified smiling maiden.

          “Dachamp,” no doubt, is Ambagan’s “The Greatest,” which is a painting of an imagined monumental sculpture of the late, lamented Muhammad Ali. In this sculpture, a child, wearing a T-shirt printed with the image of The Champ, clambers up across his body, intent on reaching the peak, symbolic of the ascent of the pugilistic career. Here is an instance whose life has been so battered, his health damaged by Parkinson’s Disease, like precious art defiled by relentless beatings, and alas, could not be restored.

          But have we not found that there is an essential beauty in a ruined state? Would we appreciate the Greek statue of the Venus de Milo more had her missing arms been found and restored? Are the Temple of the Parthenon and the Elgin Marbles, looted by the British army and hauled to the British Museum, any less impressive for their fragmentary state? To be sure, there is a need to save the precious artworks of mankind, no matter that it takes twenty years to restore, as did da Vinci’s faded Last Supper in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Though there are instances, painfully so, when restoration, like a botched plastic surgery, could not heal the damage it has sustained. Alas, our very own Spoliarium by Juan Luna, is a sad example. Sliced up in several pieces when it was shipped back to our country, the restorer Antonio Dumlao could not conceal the sutures of the wounded obra maestra.

Damaged goods? Ricky Ambagan’s “Restored” resets our perspective on the notion of the original condition.

  • CID REYES

 

 

 

 

Faces Phases

EDMAR COLMO: FACES/PHASES                       EUGENE CUBILLO: ENCOUNTERS

 

“There will be time, there will be time

To meet the faces that you meet.”

T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

            Back to back, like the Janus face, one looking to the past and the other to the future, or vice-versa, are the simultaneous solo shows at Galerie Anna of Edmar Colmo and Eugene Cubillo, titled, respectively, “Faces/Phases” and “Encounters.” Thus a tension has been set for a face-off, for indeed both their works have taken over the human visage, have torn off the masks of trauma and hypocrisy, and laid bare for all to see, in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, “the hundred indecisions, visions, and revisions” of a life wasted in regret and fear, doubts and anxieties.

            One cannot view the works of Colmo without being reminded of  the  portraits of the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1527-1593), whose faces - every feature  of it, from eyes, ears, nose, and lips, to neck and hair -  are made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flower, fish, and books. He was regarded by his contemporaries as either a deranged man or a genius, but still today, over five centuries hence, Arcimboldi’s style is still a source of great fascination, indeed an inspiration for parody and homage. To the credit of Colmo, however, he has transcended the style, and in place of fruits and fish, he has etched and limned on the human visage a multitude of ghostly faces, transforming the face into a vessel of memories of personages that continue to haunt the portrait.

A number of portraits are religious in orientation, with Jesus, Santa Maria, and Rose of Mary, as objects of veneration. All the faces have been lined with narrow bands, like passing shadows that attempt to hide the mystery and enigma beyond the human features.  Colmo displays a deftly lyrical flamboyance, revelling in a profusion of curling arabesques, tiny buds of flowers, swirling lines, and lacey traceries, like ornamental cut-out pieces of delicate table doilies. The exception to this is the portrait of the Christ, “Hesus,” which seems to have been whisked with splatters of dark pigments, perhaps alluding to the flagellation and the crucifixion. The same kind of treatment is rendered on the other two male figures, the portraits in “Gumon” and “Hardin ng Isipan.”

In contrast, a more contemporary tone is struck by Eugene Cubillo in his urban contemporary assault on the psyche, thus the title “Encounters,” where the human visage dissolves in mist, or glimpsed as if in a dream or apparition. The concerns and anxieties written on these faces are more harsh, more psychologically charged, and steeped in existential despair and foreboding with unnamed fears. The works are marked with irony, as compare the insolent “Smiley” paintings, where a smile contains more secrets and veiled sarcasm in the muscles of the face, with the lip service attitude manifested in “Bukang Bibig” and the fraught expression of the unemployed in “Looking for a Job.”

Undoubtedly, the most haunting work by Cubillo is titled “Still Alive,” which alludes to the “desaparecidos” (the disappeared; or the “salvaged,” to use the expression prevalent in our media). In this work, an entire line-up of ID or passport photos conveys a horrifying message: the lost and wasted lives of people who were martyred for a cause or ideology. The faces of these nameless ones, who were photographed, as the saying goes, “in happier times,” send shivers down the spine, as we, the gallery audience, encounter them, who could easily have been our fathers, brothers, and sisters. Alas, taken aback, and much too soon, we have had no time to prepare to meet these faces that we meet.

These two artists, Edmar Colmo and Eugene Cubillo, who collaborated on a single, similar theme, have shared  their own individual revelations that light up the darkness of the human face.

                                                *******

 

Encounters

EDMAR COLMO: FACES/PHASES                       EUGENE CUBILLO: ENCOUNTERS

 

“There will be time, there will be time

To meet the faces that you meet.”

T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

            Back to back, like the Janus face, one looking to the past and the other to the future, or vice-versa, are the simultaneous solo shows at Galerie Anna of Edmar Colmo and Eugene Cubillo, titled, respectively, “Faces/Phases” and “Encounters.” Thus a tension has been set for a face-off, for indeed both their works have taken over the human visage, have torn off the masks of trauma and hypocrisy, and laid bare for all to see, in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, “the hundred indecisions, visions, and revisions” of a life wasted in regret and fear, doubts and anxieties.

            One cannot view the works of Colmo without being reminded of  the  portraits of the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1527-1593), whose faces - every feature  of it, from eyes, ears, nose, and lips, to neck and hair -  are made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flower, fish, and books. He was regarded by his contemporaries as either a deranged man or a genius, but still today, over five centuries hence, Arcimboldi’s style is still a source of great fascination, indeed an inspiration for parody and homage. To the credit of Colmo, however, he has transcended the style, and in place of fruits and fish, he has etched and limned on the human visage a multitude of ghostly faces, transforming the face into a vessel of memories of personages that continue to haunt the portrait.

A number of portraits are religious in orientation, with Jesus, Santa Maria, and Rose of Mary, as objects of veneration. All the faces have been lined with narrow bands, like passing shadows that attempt to hide the mystery and enigma beyond the human features.  Colmo displays a deftly lyrical flamboyance, revelling in a profusion of curling arabesques, tiny buds of flowers, swirling lines, and lacey traceries, like ornamental cut-out pieces of delicate table doilies. The exception to this is the portrait of the Christ, “Hesus,” which seems to have been whisked with splatters of dark pigments, perhaps alluding to the flagellation and the crucifixion. The same kind of treatment is rendered on the other two male figures, the portraits in “Gumon” and “Hardin ng Isipan.”

In contrast, a more contemporary tone is struck by Eugene Cubillo in his urban contemporary assault on the psyche, thus the title “Encounters,” where the human visage dissolves in mist, or glimpsed as if in a dream or apparition. The concerns and anxieties written on these faces are more harsh, more psychologically charged, and steeped in existential despair and foreboding with unnamed fears. The works are marked with irony, as compare the insolent “Smiley” paintings, where a smile contains more secrets and veiled sarcasm in the muscles of the face, with the lip service attitude manifested in “Bukang Bibig” and the fraught expression of the unemployed in “Looking for a Job.”

Undoubtedly, the most haunting work by Cubillo is titled “Still Alive,” which alludes to the “desaparecidos” (the disappeared; or the “salvaged,” to use the expression prevalent in our media). In this work, an entire line-up of ID or passport photos conveys a horrifying message: the lost and wasted lives of people who were martyred for a cause or ideology. The faces of these nameless ones, who were photographed, as the saying goes, “in happier times,” send shivers down the spine, as we, the gallery audience, encounter them, who could easily have been our fathers, brothers, and sisters. Alas, taken aback, and much too soon, we have had no time to prepare to meet these faces that we meet.

These two artists, Edmar Colmo and Eugene Cubillo, who collaborated on a single, similar theme, have shared  their own individual revelations that light up the darkness of the human face.

                                                *******

 

 

Manobo : Images Of Heritage

 

Manobo: Images of Heritage

 

According to ethnographer J. Elkins, “The Manobo belongs to the original stock of proto-Philippine or proto-Austronesian people who came from South China thousands of years ago. He later coined the term Manobo to designate the stock of original, non-negritoid people of Mindanao. They mostly inhabit the hinterlands specifically on the boundaries of Agusan, Bukidnon, Cotabato, Davao, and Misamis Oriental.

 

          Traditional fabric for clothes was abaca or hemp, weaved by the ikat process, but is now cotton cloth obtained through trade. Dyes were acquired from plants and trees. Ginuwatan are inwoven with representational designs such as flowers. If cotton trade cloth is bought, big floral designs are preferred. Typical colors are red, black, yellow, green, blue and white.”

 

          Currently on view at the Galerie Anna is Jun Impas’s homage to the Lumad of Mindanao. The word means indigenous or native. For this exhibition, the artist has distinctly focus on the culture, traditions, and rituals of the Manobo.

 

This exhibition, however, is imbued by turns with deeper poignancy and with greater significance brought about by two contrasting incidences of present times. The first is the crisis caused by the recent  events which involved the killings of the Lumad. Suffice it to quote a Lumad spokesman: “It is a form of ethnocide but it is worse because there are specific characteristics of impunity and killings targeting the Lumad. What is alarming is that it is happening all over Mindanao…The military said they were rebels, but the New Peoples’ Army denied the claim, saying the victims were civilians.”

 

The second, as we all know since the nation is still caught up in the wake of the turbulent and acrimonious election, is the triumphant victory of having the first Mindanaoan head of state: President Rodrigo Duterte. And of course the question that immediately arise is: how will he solve the Lumad killings?

 

Only upon the acknowledgment of these two separate events can we begin to celebrate the recent works of Cebuano artist, Jun Impas. Titled “Manobo: Images of Heritage,” the show is an outright jubilation of the culture of the Manobo, and understandably from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, the artist marveled at the pageantry of ceremony and the deeply glowing hues of their fabric and clothing. Indeed, Impas allowed pride of place for a depiction of bands of these exotically woven fabric to enliven and strengthen the design and composition, visual flavor and emotional temper of his artworks. Moreover, when Impas lays out the bolts of Manobo fabric into coiling drapery, the viewer senses the artist has been truly swept by the beauty of the material.

Travelling down to Davao to participate in the Manobo festival, with his trusty camera and an avid spirit, Impas saw for himself the dazzling annual event of music and dance. This act of immersion and participation, imbibing the entire local color and feeling the pulse of the Manobo people, is what drives Impas to visually record the event with a documentary truth as well as a painterly passion. We need only recall that Impas  journeyed all over the archipelago, from North to South, to attend the various fiestas in order to produce that epic exhibition of Philippine fiestas, presented by Galerie Anna at the SM Art Center, with no less a distinguished guest than the Secretary of Tourism Ramon Jimenez  in attendance. It was a kind of herculean task Impas had imposed on himself, even as he was aware of the time pressure, the physical and the financial demands this challenge would claim from him. Typically, Jun Impas redeemed himself.

 

In these recent artworks, what is touching is the sight of generations of Manobo: the children and the elderly, all caught up in the activities of the festival. The old Manobo playing the percussive instruments and the infant being held aloft by his mother are both vivid images of history and heritage, the Manobo, aborning and unfurling.

And in the midst of it is the unseen artist Jun Impas, weaving himself in and out of the crowd, as though he were himself being woven into the fabric of the lives of the Manobo.

                                                          -Cid Reyes

 

 

 

Still Life

Cesar Arro:

A RAGE TO PAINT

By Cid Reyes

 

          So obvious is the fact that no one seems to bother even saying it: an artist, in whatever field, must be viscerally, even obsessively, connected to his material, so involved with it as to constitute a passion, an obsession to draw from this substance the very spirit of his art. To wit: a writer must be in love with the use of words to communicate a narrative or ideas. A musician, using the instrument of his choice, must first take delight in sound, per se, before he can even string the notes in any melodic or harmonious sequence. A filmmaker or director must be driven by his sheer enthusiasm for the illusion of moving images. Just the touch of raw materials such as stone, marble, bronze, wood, metal, or glass, is enough to engender in a sculptor an intense desire to shape it, to release, as Michelangelo said and did, the figure trapped within it.  And for an artist, a painter….

          By his own admission, Cezar Arro, who is now holding his fifth solo show, “Still Lifes” at Galerie Anna, is addicted (his own word!) to paint. The fleshiness and glow of oils, the plasticity and versatility of acrylics, the delicacy and transparency of watercolor….all these mediums work their own possession, of an artist’s soul, invigorating and driving his spirit to create visual expressions until, as Arro himself describes his own experience, finally drained.

          The title of the show – “Still Lifes” –might puzzle the viewer. Was it intentional on the artist’s part? As we all know, a still life is a painting of inanimate objects, such as fruit, flowers, etc., often arranged on a table.  A species of still life was called the vanitas, which presents an assembly of objects that suggest the passage of time, such as clocks, hourglasses, melting candles, withering flowers, and more symbolically, butterflies, which, for all their graceful and entrancing beauty and fragility, do not live for long. All these images bespeak of a singular truth: the transcience of life, the mortality of man.

Did Cezar Arro imply this crucial message in his “Still Lifes”? For what the artist has presented is a heavy downpour, a cascading bath of watery pigments, descending, splashing, on a naked male figure, awash in all the blending polychromatic pigments. Do these works speak for the artist himself?  For indeed  he is dramatically portrayed with a palette of colors and a paintbrush gripped by his hand? That a work is titled “Exploring the New World of Arro” should suffice to answer the question.

Endowing his pigments with the magical power of transformation, Arro achieves a complete identification between the vocation of an artist and his medium. Through changing physical poses, he achieves various dimensions of existential struggle and turmoil, and thus Arro has entered into a very personal region, conveying the message that while an artist is inspired by the act of creation, his commitment to his art is also paved along the way with incalculable challenges. Realistically speaking, we can point to the example of Van Gogh, an inspiring precedent, who endured and struggled through extreme and maddening difficulties, and who was said to have sold only one painting in his lifetime! Alas, we, too, have been witness to a number of talented young artists, who, after years of commercial failures, finally just surrendered to life’s “injustice” and gave up painting completely.

And thus, we are confronted the question: Is an artist’s life an “unstill life”?

There are two striking works in the show: one is titled “Landscape,” which cleverly depicts the artist literally painting himself into a framed canvas, an utter consummation of his being into his art. The other, with a playfully worded title “Self pour trait of Frida Kahlo,” is a portrayal of the tragic Mexican artist, emerging from a dazzling downpour of paint, her hand wielding  the brush that has caused her into existence. Veritably, this work is a “tour de force,” a triumph of visual autobiography.

 And so, with these two works, Cezar Arro, still raging to paint, has justified his own unique concept of “still life.”

                                      *****

         

An Inevitable

MALYN BONAYOG: Inevitable Presences

 

            “Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people ever not really, people belong to them.” That’s how homeowner Gladys Taber reminisced about her family’s old house. But whether the old house is a family property, or an old house that one remembers from one’s past, that old crumbling abode sends out emotional resonances that affect us, summoning unbidden feelings and thoughts about the past, and by implication, about the present and the future. Thus it is for artist Malyn Bonayog, whose exhibition of works devoted to old habitation is on view at the Galerie Anna.

An integral part of the artist’s memory is of her grandmother, her lola, whose narrations of the lives of people who once lived in old houses in their hometown Gapan, in Nueva Ecija, that have taken  grip on a child’s imagination. And the bittersweet, ironic aspect of the memory is that Malyn’s grandmother will, soon enough, leave her for the afterlife, thus in effect, finally joining the others who have gone ahead of her. Such memories have galvanized the artist into giving visual life to those precious memories, and if the cruel inroads of relentless urbanization have caused those old houses to disappear, then the artworks that have provoked them into existence might as well bring them back to life again.

While other artists have also been fascinated by these old structures, what differentiates Malyn’s renditions are the insights that emerge from her contemplations. She has gone beyond the rudimentary need for architectural documentation, surely a worthy cause in itself, but her painting activity is also her emotional and personal projection into her own past, her own vanished childhood, and as it was with her grandmother’ demise, the artist’s own future departure from this world. Malyn’s artworks bind her into a space and time that is one mysterious continuum, where past, present and future is a transfiguration, and not a redundancy, of one and the other. Where each one intersects the other, is where the artist is most present.

But expect no nostalgic blues in Malyn’s visions of these old houses. It is true: what another homeowner, Grace King, remarked of her own experience – “We wander through old streets, and pause before the age-stricken houses, and strange to say, the magic past lights them up.” For Malyn, lighting up the past is better contrasted and enhanced by the sensibilities of the present, cast within the interior space created by the visual utilities at the service of the artist, such graphic and compositional devices as stripes and bands and zigzags, high tonal contrast and printing technology. They invest currents of motion and activity upon the unnerving stillness of these provincial streets and landscapes, as witness those jangly electric wires hanging awry, like rude behavior in the presence of these stoic and dignified old houses.

Inevitable is the past being swept by the present, at the very moment the future thrusts itself into our existence.

JOSUE MANGROBANG, JR.: Inevitable Secrets

 

                The Hungarian artist named Christo, together with his wife Jeanne-Claude, made a big splash in the art world in the Seventies, with a single daring act: wrapping. With that one gesture – wrapping the most ordinary, commonplace and familiar objects, such as a telephone, a pedestal, an armchair, magazines, champagnes bottles – with fabric or polyethylene, they invested these workaday objects that we all simply ignore, with mystery and intrigue, drama and suspense, cloaking them in the viewer’s mind, with qualities and attributes that they otherwise would not have provoked into existence. Christo and Jeanne-Claude went one step beyond Marcel Duchamp, who introduced the concept of the “ready-made.” With one magisterial decision, Duchamp had chosen functional, utilitarian objects such as a bottle rack, a urinal, a shovel, a window pane, and proclaimed them to be art.

                Closer to home, Filipino artist Josue Mangrobang, in his own revelatory way, introduces the concept, not of wrapping, but of its reversal: unwrapping. The medium, however, is not sculptural, but in the two-dimensional, a visual image on canvas. The material which he uses illustratively is not fabric or polyethylene, but paper. To be sure, there are significations inherent in Mangrobang’s choice of material. But first, what are the implications of the gesture of unwrapping? Indeed, one must precede from a wrapped state, a hidden and concealed situation, suggestive of secrecy and denial of transparency. The intent is to abolish the truth of a certain reality, to disconnect the sight from the object of its search, to mystify what has been so ostentatiously displayed. Unwrapping has been so associated with Mangrobang since he participated in prestigious national art competitions and gaining the attention of critics and the jury. Moreover, the presence of children in his works, wrapped then in ruled paper pad, has taken on the specter of allegory, instruments of messages that may be at first be too lofty for their young, innocent minds, though, indeed, these children are tragically and ironically the first victims.

                Thus, in this show, we witness a series of works titled “Children Petition To Global Warming.” The poignancy and sorrow that resonate from these images cannot be overestimated. Their past, present and future are inextricably subsumed by a disaster of global proportion, when in fact the fate of humanity teeters on the balance, and when the thought of human extinction is not just a possibility but a looming probability. Using paper as their medium and material of communication, a material that can be literally soaked into extinction, these children, half-comprehending the gravity of the situation, are petitioning for their lives and for the necessity of world leaders to save the planet with extreme urgency. A powerful message has already been sent through the world’s television screens: Nature does not need people. People need nature.

Likening himself to a writer, unveiling the truth about our present reality, Mangrobang must perforce convey his message in the most direct and vital manner, delivering a warning through a material that literally and symbolically stand for a ravaged world. He has started to use panels of old wood, reminders of nature that has been destroyed by man. Thus, these pieces of wood have become sacrosanct relics that must bear the burden of uncovered secrets, ultimately unwrapping and unveiling the reality that man is truly the murderous assassin of his own world. We may be seeing the last of the paper that is Mangrobang’s symbol, frail issue from the tree that has been brutally felled.